What Is a Salary Survey?

A salary survey, also called a market survey, is a form of external salary data. Companies participate in the survey by providing average salaries for all or some positions in their company. Salary surveys can be organized by location or region, industry or specialized industry, company size, and other factors.

Because the purpose of salary surveys is to show averages for common positions, participating companies typically provide salaries for positions that are likely to exist within the industry. These types of positions are called benchmark positions.

Why You Need Salary Survey Data

As an HR professional, you help the company make important salary decisions, including job offers and compensation adjustments. Below are some reasons why you need salary survey data to make these decisions:

  • Ensure competitive salaries. Salary survey data is the best way to make sure your salaries are competitive with other companies so you can compete for top talent.
  • Reduce turnover. Your employees are your largest investment. Investing in salary surveys will help you retain talent as salaries change over time.
  • Increase transparency. It’s helpful to have salary survey data in case a manager wants to offer more than the recommended range or an employee asks for a raise that’s too high.
  • Legal compliance. Salary surveys provide you the information you need to make salary adjustments to comply with pay equity laws.

Where to Find Salary Survey Data

There are three main types of salary-survey resources: vendors, membership associations, and free sources.

1. Traditional Surveying Companies


Culpepper is a compensation-surveying and consulting company focused on helping companies establish competitive, fair salaries. They provide salary data by industry, job function and geographical region.


Mercer is a large asset-management firm with multiple subsidiaries, one of which provides salary survey data based on industry and function. Mercer also provides some international salary information.


PayScale is a popular salary-data resource for both companies and employees. It provides some free data, and you can research salaries for free based on job title, company, degree, certification, and geographic region, among many other categories. In addition to providing data, PayScale offers compensation software.

Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson provides multiple business-related services to domestic and international companies. One of these services is compensation strategy, which includes help researching market salaries and creating efficient benefits packages. Willis Towers Watson also provides compensation software.

2. Membership Associations

Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)

SHRM is one of the two primary professional associations for human resource professionals. SHRM provides salary survey data to members through the SHRM Compensation Data Center, and also keeps an updated list of approved salary survey vendors.

National Council of Nonprofits

Non-profit salaries are unique since they’re often limited by the non-profit’s funding. Still, non-profits sometimes have flexibility in their compensation plan, and salary survey data can help. The National Council of Nonprofits helps members connect to state associations, which often provide salary survey data for non-profits.

College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR)

CUPA-HR is a leading HR association for higher education professionals. Members have access to various types of benchmarking data, including salary survey data, available through their Data OnDemand.

3. Free Salary Survey Resources

Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects various kinds of employment and salary data. Two sources of salary data within the BLS are the National Compensation Survey and Occupational and Employment Wages Statistics.


Indeed provides salary information based on job title, industry, and location. It also rates companies based on various factors, including compensation.


Salary.com provides free salary information for individual positions. Although it won’t provide salary survey data across multiple job groups, Salary.com also has some company-specific salary data.

How to Use What You Learn

Salary survey data can be overwhelming, and it might be difficult to figure out what to do with the information. Below are a few case studies to help you get the most out of your survey data.

1. Making a Job Offer

Survey data can help you make a competitive job offer by giving you:

  • Average salary for the job
  • Average salary in the region
  • Salaries of your industry competitors

Salary surveys may or may not provide you with adjustments for cost of living, which shows how salaries compare in value when adjusted for the cost of living in their respective cities. If they do not, you can find cost-of-living adjustments online for free, like CNN Money’s cost-of-living salary tool. Don’t be afraid to share resources like this with the candidate, as they may not have considered how much the cost of living impacts a salary’s value.

2. Pay Adjustment: Pay Equity Raise

If you discover a pay inequity within your organization, salary survey data can help you even out the scales. In this context, salary surveys provide you with:

  • Market averages for the job
  • Job duties and responsibilities
  • Comparably-sized companies
  • Internal data

Internal salary information is very important for pay equity adjustments because a primary factor is what you’re paying other employees in your company who are doing “comparable” or “substantially similar” work. You can pay a compensation survey company to help you with your internal survey, but if you have HR software, you’ll be able to do this yourself.

External salary data can also helps you understand how equitable your company is in comparison to others—but you’ll still need to remove internal inequities.

Learn more about correcting inequity arising from employee’s location 

3. Pay Adjustment: Processing a Raise Request

Pay raise requests are common when an employee has accumulated some tenure with your company. When an employee is asking for a raise without a promotion, factors you’ll want to consider are how many years of experience they now have, what raises they’ve received, whether they’ve taken on additional responsibilities, and external data.

Salary surveys can provide you with salary averages based on experience. If you realize the employee has taken on responsibilities outside their original job description, you can probably find data that matches the employee’s current duties.